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HP moves away from HP 9000s

Hewlett-Packard has announced its exit from another of its enterprise server lines, ending the life of the HP 9000. The process mirrors the departure of the HP 3000 from the vendor's product line: Ending sales orders, then all shipping in 2009, with parts and support no longer available from HP after 2013.

As part of the transition to HP Integrity systems, HP has announced the retirement of the HP 9000 server line. As of December 31, 2008, HP 9000 servers will no longer be available for purchase. Support for these product offerings will continue to be available through 2013.

HP has now moved on completely from its PA-RISC server architecture, after delivering generations which ran from 7000 to 8900 covering the years 1986 to 2006. Two decades is an extraordinary run for any design, but especially notable for one like Precision Architecture, which made a business success out of Reduced Instruction Set Computing, a radical break from CPU designs of the 1980s.

The departure of the HP 9000 completes the takeover of HP's newer enterprise architecture, Itanium. HP continues to sell that technology as Integrity servers, the only units which run the HP-UX operating environment. The PA-RISC systems were popular among the HP 3000 migrating sites, especially in the four years when Itanium was working to surpass PA-RISC. HP had a goal of eliminating its PA-RISC sales in favor of Itanium, and by this year the company was more than 70 percent of the way there for new sales.

The older servers are still in use, of course, which makes the elimination more important to HP's business than that of its customers. Something like HP's decision to drop the 3000 and MPE/iX. The issue that migrating customers must consider: How long will HP support HP-UX on the PA-RISC 9000s?

HP will address the end of the 9000s, and the vendor's support for Unix on them, at next month's HP Technology Forum. The conference session catalog promises

HP explores the future roadmap strategies for the HP-UX Operating Environments. Planned future directions seek to improve flexibility, simplify software deployment and sales, add new functionality and greatly improve the customer experience. Both PA and IPF plans will be part of the presentation.

The end of the HP 9000 will sound confusing to some of the 3000 community, a group which for more than two decades has viewed the Unix counterpart in terms of a number (9000) rather than a brand name. HP still has plenty of numbers in its Integrity lineup, more than it ever had while selling PA-RISC servers. Each Integrity server number is unique, it seems, upon every release of a new generation of the hardware.

PA-RISC was unique for another reason. The architecture was the last great computer design created and manufactured entirely inside HP. The company practiced a Not Invented Here prejudice for all of the 1970s and 1980s, a viewpoint that anything built outside of HP would have to prove itself to be embraced by Hewlett-Packard's IT strategy for customers. NIH officially gave its last gasp when the Itanium designs to replace PA-RISC rolled off the HP manufacturing lines. The Itanium design was HP's first joint effort with Intel, and it was always portrayed as a replacement for PA-RISC. HP began Itanium work by turning over its own internal designs and tests to a joint HP-Intel team. HP was building a VLIW successor to PA-RISC, but by the early 1990s the vendor believed that fabricating chips and testing the silicon aspects of a circuit were jobs for Intel.

The HP 9000 end of life — sounds as serious as the 3000's when you use that phrase, no? — will spark migrations over the next five years. They won't be big projects like moving off of an operating environment, like leaving MPE/iX. And only a subset of customers who use HP-UX will face any extra work. Those who have built their own HP-UX applications are going to need to test on the newer Integrity line; perhaps they'll need to make changes in their code, although HP has worked hard to ensure such a thing is uncommon.

As for HP-UX, the unique version of Unix which can only call HP hardware a home, it has an unlimited future according to HP. Hardware dies, but software lives forever, according to a bromide from the industry. The statement means that parts and silicon break down or slow to a crawl, but it takes much longer for any software to fail to do its assigned work. HP, its 3000 community and its 3000 partners can report that's true. By the time the HP 9000 ceases its sales life, MPE/iX will still have two full years of support from HP — and lord knows how many more from the 3000 third party suppliers